Are we undermining the meaning of the word ‘specialise’?

I saw an advert recently for the Daily Telegraph’s jobs board. It claims them to be “Specialists in your Industry”. Er, no they aren’t. They can’t be.

They may ‘cover’ every industry. They may have vacancies or jobs for people in “every” (or, more likely, simply ‘most’) industries. But, by definition, they cannot be ‘specialists’ in all industries. No one can. Specialists concentrate primarily on a particular subject or activity. This is the complete opposite of what the Telegraph jobs board attempts to assert.

This reminded me of the nonsensical way that some accountants claim to specialise in working with or advising SMEs. I’m sorry but this is hardly a meaningful specialism either.

Official statistics from the Dept of Business Innovation & Skills show that OVER 99.7% of all UK businesses satisfy the definition of SME business. The stats also reveal that around 4.5 million businesses in the UK rank as SMEs, so it’s not realistic to claim SMEs as a specialism.  And I am firmly of the view that Accountants, of all people, should not perpetuate the myth that the acronym ‘SME’ refers only to the smallest micro businesses (which officially have a turnover of less than 2m euros and fewer than 10 staff).

If you ‘specialise’ in advising micro or smaller businesses, solopreneurs or small family-run businesses you cannot, at the same time also ‘specialise’ in advising those with muti-million pound turnovers and hundreds of staff. (The definition of SME includes those businesses with a turnover of upto £25.9m and upto 250 staff).

Some accountants’ websites misuse the word ‘specialise’ in another way. They list out the industries in which the firm ‘specialises’. All too often, this is simply a list of all of the industries in which the firm has at least one or two clients.

Those firms which truly have a specialist focus generally evidence this by explaining how their focus benefits clients in those industries. The websites have specific pages that talk to prospective clients in those industries and contain specialist information of relevance and benefit to prospects in those industries.

Rant over.  Do let me know what you think on this topic by adding your comments below please.

By |2018-07-24T19:21:55+00:00June 7th, 2012|Accountants, Business messaging and branding, Marketing and promotion|

About the Author:

Mark Lee FCA is an accountancy focused futurist, influencer, speaker, mentor, author and debunker.


  1. Della Hudson (@Hudson Accountan) 7th June 2012 at 2:53 pm - Reply

    Most of our clients are micro businesses and some would take offence at being considered smaller than small so we use the term OMB owner managed business in our marketing.

  2. David O'Keeffe 7th June 2012 at 3:39 pm - Reply


    Absolutely agree! When I started out in tax (rather a long time ago), I considered that I ‘specialised’ in tax; nowadays, it would be totally meaningless to make such a claim. I consider myself a ‘specialist’ consultant as I focus my expertise and experience in a very small number of related areas. I often have a little smile to myself when I see advisers with a long (and often diverse) list of ‘specialisms’. The problem is that many potential clients will consider that someone who ‘specialises’ in an area must be an ‘expert’ and that isn’t always the case.

  3. Hugh Dunlop ACIS, FFA, FIAB 19th June 2012 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    I do not ‘specialise’ in any area. No one can know everything! I concentrate on small one man businesses giving current, or as current as possible, advice and assistance, and would not attempt to service larger businesses which require a firm with several accountants each with a broad knowledge of specific areas.

  4. Stephen Moorse FCCA CTA ATT 19th June 2012 at 1:05 pm - Reply

    Another word that I think is misused is ‘expert’.

    I can say I know a bit about quite a lot (probably) and I know quite a lot about a bit (possibly) but an expert, I wouldn’t claim to be an expert in anything.

    That’s just asking to be made to look stupid by someone who really knows their subject.

    And don’t get me started on ‘consultant’

  5. James Hellyer 23rd June 2012 at 10:48 am - Reply

    Do two clients in a sector make you a ‘specialist’ while three make you an ‘expert’, or the other wya around?

  6. David Lewis 12th July 2012 at 2:02 pm - Reply

    Unfortunately we are in the era of spin. I pride myself in not being a sector specialist and the fact that my experience in one sector can be applied in other sectors. I recently applied something I’d picked up from a client in the training industry to the care sector!! Conventional marketing wisdom says I should call myself a sector specialist!!

    At what point does marketing speak compromise integrity? BTW is it OK for a windown cleaner to be called a vision technician.

  7. Carl Reader 18th April 2015 at 8:41 am - Reply

    Me thinks that some of the above commenters are off on the wrong track here… It is possible to specialise. It is possible to be an expert. Just not in 100% of the activities of 99.7% of business.

    Me? I’m an expert in a specialist field.

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